Leaving Town for Cardiac Bypass: Donna's Story

Published Monday, October 28, 2019

Leaving Town for Cardiac Bypass: Donna's Story

Donna Pento had to travel to Hamilton, Ontario to receive triple bypass surgery. She wants anyone who needs this critical surgery to be assured they can have it close to home where they can best be supported.

One day when I was out walking, I got these shooting pains up my back that dropped me right to my knees. It was terrifying because I honestly had no clue what was going on. For a few months before that, I’d been experiencing shortness of breath, as well as feeling tired and run down, which was really unlike me. I also had pain in my jaw – but nothing that my Dentist could explain.

I was only 58 and wondering what on earth was happening to me. You know that feeling you get when you know something isn’t right, but you’re just not sure what it is? That’s how I felt a few years ago.

As it turns out, my symptoms were caused by three of my coronary (heart) arteries being completely blocked and I needed cardiac bypass surgery to save my life.

But here’s the kicker. I couldn’t have it. Well, not locally anyway. I was shocked when I was told I couldn’t have the surgery here. I had no idea I would have to go out of town. I was scared I was going to die.

I didn’t know if I was going to make it. And I had more anxiety because I was worried for me, but also for my family, because of all the travel. All to figure out, what was going to happen with me?

I shouldn’t have had to travel so far away for this life-saving care.

Luckily for me, my husband, Don and my sister Gayle were able to accompany me to Hamilton for my surgery, but my mother was aging and had some mobility issues so she couldn’t join us.

Not having my Mom there made a stressful experience worse. I still remember, when I woke up from surgery, that the first thing I wanted to do was call her to let her know I was ok.

And thank goodness for my sister. She’s a single working mother, so, logistically, there was a lot to work out for her to come with me. I really admire her. She was the one who was the support for my husband, plus she kept on top of all the text messages, calls, e-mails, Facebook messages etc. from our families and friends asking how I was doing.

You don’t realize all the additional stress of travelling away from home for a procedure like this until you’ve gone through it. I can see why some people choose not to go. Think about that. Some people choose not to go.

It seems crazy doesn’t it? Choosing not to have life-saving surgery and knowing that death is knocking at your door. But for some people, traveling so far from home is virtually impossible. Sometimes, the barriers of culture, language, or finances are too much to overcome.

No one should have to travel so far, possibly without their support system, to have critical, life-saving care. The choice to have surgery should never centre on:

‘Can I afford it?’

‘Can I have someone come with me?’

‘Who will take care of things while I’m away?’

Not to mention, travelling back home on a plane after you’ve had major surgery isn’t exactly comfortable let me tell you.

I want anyone who needs this surgery to be assured that they can have it here in Thunder Bay – close to home, where they can best be supported. My husband Don and I have already made a donation to the Our Hearts At Home Campaign to ensure we can have cardiovascular surgery here locally.

I’m asking you to join us in making a donation to bring life- and limb-saving cardiovascular surgery to Northwestern Ontario.

It’s time to keep our hearts at home.

Donate to the Our Hearts At Home Campaign and bring cardiovascular surgery to Northwestern Ontario
Online: OurHeartsAtHome.ca
Phone: (807) 345-4673
In-Person: Donation Centre inside the Health Sciences Centre (next to Robin’s Donuts)
Mail: 980 Oliver Rd. Thunder Bay, ON P7B 6V4


“Naturally when I found out that my daughter Donna was going to have heart bypass surgery, I was very concerned and worried for her. My husband had bypass surgery at 58 and died of a heart attack very suddenly at age 72. As a mother you never stop worrying about your children but Donna had a very positive attitude about having this surgery. I knew she hadn’t been feeling herself for some time and I was hoping it was a surgery she could have in Thunder Bay. I am in my 80s and felt very sad and frustrated that I was not able to be at her side in Hamilton.  I was very glad when my other daughter Gayle told me she would go to Hamilton and support Donna and her husband Don through this process. My way of communicating is the good old telephone so I was on pins and needles until I received the call from Gayle saying Donna had gone through the surgery good and was in recovery. I was able to talk to Donna the day after her surgery and felt now that things would be OK but I never stopped worrying until I saw her in person after she came back to Thunder Bay.”

Hilkka Douglas, Donna’s Mother


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